• Jan 28, 2008

Tesla Roadster – Click above for high-res image gallery

Most people are lucky to experience one life-affirming moment while they're on this earth; I experienced mine last week. AutoblogGreen's Sam Abuelsamid called to ask if I was interested in accompanying him on his exclusive First Drive of the Tesla Roadster. Aside from the company's own employees, only a few customers and the major automotive print publications have driven the Tesla Roadster so far. But you won't have to check your mailbox or drop $4.95 at Barnes and Noble to read about what it's like to drive this truly revolutionary vehicle. Follow the jump for our full road test (with video!) and check out the gallery of amazing images below.

UPDATE: Due to popular demand, we've included a video of the Tesla making a few passes without any music or voice over so you can get a sense of how quiet the EV is at speed.



All photos Copyright ©2007 Damon Lavrinc/Brad Wood/Weblogs, Inc.

A few days later we arrived at Tesla's R&D facility in San Carlos and were escorted to the back of the building where a half dozen Roadsters were parked and perched throughout the garage. Our silver tester for the day, Validation Prototype 10 (VP10), was near the corrugated rollup door, soft-top removed, lying in wait. After a series of impromptu photos and a few introductions, Sam got behind the wheel with a Tesla exec riding shotgun and we made our way back to the Audi R8 we were driving to follow the all-electric coupe through the crowded streets of the South Bay burb.



Thankfully, the monsoon that had been plaguing Northern California let up for a few hours and allowed Sam to wring out the Tesla on his way up to the Peninsula's crown jewel of motoring bliss: Skyline Blvd. Sweeping corners and dramatic elevation changes make up the 26-mile route that Tesla's PR people deemed worthy of the Roadster's time. The only concern on our part – and probably Tesla's – was that the prototype's Yokohama Advan Neova AD07 summer tires (sized 175/55R16 up front and 225/45R17 out back) might be ill suited for the damp tarmac. Sam put this concern to rest within the first half mile, laying into the throttle on the straights and braking late into some of the tighter bends without drama. Chasing the Tesla in Audi's V8-powered super coupe turned into an exercise of anticipation. Knowing the limits of Quattro and the R8's traction control system, it was obvious that I was able to power out of the corners with a bit more ease, but as soon as Mr. A slammed down on the throttle in the EV, it took a few seconds for the R8 to catch up to the Tesla's silver bumper. Less than 3,000 pounds (2,690 unoccupied) and 200 lb.-ft. of torque at zero rpm can do that.



We stopped at one of the few turnoffs on Skyline to take some photos and throw the cloth top on the Tesla (the same routine required by Elise owners), and we proceeded to head north. After a few more miles, Sam pulled off in front of a ranchette's white picket fence. We approached the driver's side of the Roadster and rolled down the window to see what the unscheduled stop was all about. "You ready to drive it?" It didn't take long for me to contort myself into the tight confines of the Tesla.



First reaction: My God, I'm in a Lotus. No surprise considering that the Tesla is built along side the Elise at the Hethel production facility. The MOMO steering wheel, seats and dash are all carryovers from the donor car, but the carbon fiber transmission tunnel, carpeting and gauge cluster are all specific to the Tesla. And about that gauge cluster... A 13,500 rpm redline causes a grin reminiscent of Jack Nicholson, post-chemical plant explosion. Below the tach is an LCD readout that gives total miles, battery charge level and a range display, while above my left knee is a small touch screen that provides a variety of auxiliary information, including quick facts about the 990-pound battery mounted behind my back.

The carbon fiber tunnel bisecting the cabin is one of many parts replaced with the exotic weave, and houses the HVAC knobs, traction control switch, gear selector and buttons for the heated seats. That last one surprised us in a vehicle that's obviously trying to keep off the pounds, but upon further questioning it was revealed that the amount of power necessary to heat the seats was a pittance compared to the energy required to keep the entire passenger compartment comfortable. Effieciency is top priority at Tesla.

Shifting into the one and only gear without pushing in a clutch is an off-putting task for someone who's spent a fair amount of time in an Elise. This particular car has the original XTrac two speed gear-box with first gear locked out, allowing it to simulate the behavior that can be expected from the single-speed units that will be used for early production cars starting March 17. After easing onto the throttle and pulling off the gravel-strewn turnout, everything was exactly as I remembered it in the Elise. Steering feel is still some of the best you'll ever experience, with an unboosted rack pulled straight from Lotus. It's direct and rewarding, providing plenty of information from initial input to lock. But we've experienced steering like this before, so the question is: how does it go?

Quick.



Laying into the long pedal from a rolling start elicits instant acceleration on par with only a handful of exotics, but without any of the aural drama. The horizon comes towards you with authority, but the only sound is a faint whir that's quickly drowned out by tire and wind noise. Despite the electric motor's 248 hp and 200 lb.-ft. of torque, things begin to fall flat around 6,000 rpm – something of a disappointment since we were looking forward to revving the electric motor into the stratosphere. But that would have been totally unnecessary. The chosen road provided a number of straights that would easily put our license at risk, and undulating corners offered in a variety of angles quickly snubbed them out.



Handling those twists in the Tesla is an absolute joy, but again, no surprise considering the vehicle on which it's based. Turning into a corner at speed is predictable, with a faint amount of understeer that's slightly more than in the shorter (by six inches) and lighter (by around 700 pounds) Lotus Elise. Thankfully, Tesla's engineers mounted that massive battery pack against the firewall in the engine compartment, placing the majority of the weight in the middle of the car.

The Roadster maintains a lot of the Elise's chuckability, however, the softer suspension partnered with the extra pounds makes it a bit more nervous at the limit – and the wet roads on our drive didn't help. But the overall feel is one of planted purposefulness, with an engaging helm and an absolutely inspiring power delivery.



The drive was short, but it provided enough proof that this startup from San Carlos is well on its way to making motoring history. Early adopters who laid down the $98,000 cost of entry are expected to begin taking delivery of their own Roadsters March 17 and according to the chaperones during our drive, Tesla is heading out to Laguna Seca to test the Tesla's prowess on the track. We're looking forward to hearing how it fares and are even more curious about what the future holds for both Tesla and the industry it's helping to shape.

NOTE: Our 80-90 mile drive in the Tesla involved a lot of hard accelerating on a variety of roads. After driving the Roadster for two to three hours, when we made our way back to the shop, the EV still had about 30-percent of its battery life left.





All photos Copyright ©2007 Damon Lavrinc/Brad Wood/Weblogs, Inc.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 35 Comments
      • 7 Years Ago
      1000lb battery?! $98,000?! Not to mention the cost of bettery replacement a few years down the road.

      clearly, still a work in progress, but not a bad first step. Unless they can get the price down to it's competitors, i see no viable market.
        • 7 Years Ago
        what competitors?

        this thing will sell out.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Good work with the car. Electricity is our way out of the middle east if we choose to solve the problem in our own back yard. This car is a big step forward and I'm looking forward to the continued development of the technology.

      Batteries will get lighter and cheaper. Solar panels will do the same. CO2 can be captured and used to recover our oil.

      I would rather see us develop our energy resources and techology here in the US, Canada and Mexico then watch us send our money overseas for oil and wars. Electric cars and high speed electric trains are the future.

      If you use gasoline to drive a car, you're possibly one big event in Saudi Arabia away from walking...Why risk it?
      • 6 Years Ago
      It's a cool car and nice idea.

      The part i'm already dreading is its so expensive the only people who can afford them are hollywood types so they can be seen and tell the world "I care more about the enviroment than you do".
      • 7 Years Ago
      i'll keep my exige S, my 30mpg, my ability to fill up anywhere, my better performance and my $30K in change, thanks....

      if they feel compelled, tesla drivers should buy an elise and donate $50,000 to an environmental charity if they really want to make a difference. they can even spend a grand to put a big sticker wrap on the elise to say "I donated $50K for trees instead of driving an electric sports car" to tell everyone else on the road of their deed like hybrid drivers.

      i bet an elise plus $50K in trees would provide a better carbon footprint than driving a Tesla!! i mean, we gotta burn coal to make energy to recharge the thing, right?
        • 7 Years Ago
        Its been proven that Electric vehicles contribute less emissions than regular cars factoring in the coal burnt for the electricity. Not to mention some electricity such as from dams and wind turbines are free of emissions. Besides the point you made about the money, your logic is flawed. The price will come down once they have competition.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Tesla is not planning on saving the world with this car. Their plan is not to get every person to buy this car. This is just sort of an introduction as to what electric can do.

        As for the whole "Coal is being burnt to power it comment". There are such things as renewable resources. And im pretty sure you have heard of the inefficiencies of ICE's. If your going to have the whole, "Coal is being burnt" logic, then take into consideration all that takes place to get that gasoline into your car. Drilling, refining, and transportation.

        Personally, I am excited for EV's. Not only because the environmental, but because the new driving experience they may offer. Im curious how all that torque feels instantaneously.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Example:
        Taking the bus and carpooling is better than using a car yourself.

        apply this to electric vehicles

        Using electricity from a plant is better.
        There is a better explanation, but i hope you get the point.
        • 7 Years Ago
        I think you miss the point entirely.

        Purchasing this vehicle finances further R&D into electric cars that will bring the price down into BMW range, then eventually into Chevy Cobalt range.

        And that really makes a difference.
      • 7 Years Ago
      So, how long did the battery charge last?
        • 7 Years Ago
        All told, we covered between 80 and 90 miles, much of it on Skyline where we were accelerating pretty heavily on about 75% of the drive. When we got back to the shop, there was around 30% left on the battery pack and I'm assuming it was close to a full charge when we left.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Just remember Keebler elves don't make these cars. The manufacturing process cause more pollution. Fun to drive yes. Good for Earth, no.
      • 7 Years Ago
      You dont buy a telsa to save the environment you buy it for 200 lb-ft @ 0,000 rpm. Plus you dont pay for 93 octane, which sounds fantastic to these ears. I love my V8s but this article has ensured that I will get nothing more done today at the office. I'm pretty darn jealous.
      • 7 Years Ago
      San Carlos is NOT in the South Bay.

      It's penninsula.
      • 7 Years Ago
      The issue with EVs has always been, and will always be: RANGE.

      The chassis, and to a lesser degree the motivation thereof are a known quantity. What the world wants to know is: How far did you go? How much juice did that use? How long did it take to recharge?

      The answers to those questions will make, or break Tesla.

      My bet is on "break".

      --chuck
      http://chuck.goolsbee.org
        • 7 Years Ago
        The EPA cycle got 221 miles per charge; the usual disclaimer applies - your millage may vary. Tesla real-world tests showed something under 200 (I forget, but it was over 150) for worst case aggressive driving and 260 miles for conservative driving.

        For 110 volts, it takes 7 1/2 hours to charge. At 220, it takes 3 1/2. Assuming you don't drive more than 200+ miles a day, you can charge at night. That's a big assumption for some people, but this is not a car for everyone.

        The big gamble here is what happens after 100,000 miles and the battery begins to show it's age. At some point people will want a battery upgrade, and that takes $20,000. Tesla is betting that battery technology will continue to improve at the current rate and prices will continue to drop. Hopefully, in five years or so, $10-15,000 will upgrade you to 3-400 mile range and longer life.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Hopefully when AB and ABG drive the production version (faster) they can use a similarly priced "chase" car and do some comparisons.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I'm gonna wait on this car. I'll spend my monopoly money on the Karma, which looks classier and more practical.

      • 7 Years Ago
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